The Great Hall at Crystal Bridges Museum was sold-out beyond capacity Wednesday (April 10) night for Norman Rockwell and Edible Culture, the monthly Wednesday Over Water event.
This month’s event focused on the American Chronicles Exhibition of Norman Rockwell illustrations and Rockwell’s perspective of Edible Culture in the United States. A WOW event is typically sold-out with a crowd of 120 people, but this most recent event in the Great Hall held 170 people.
Crystal Bridges Culinary Director Case Dighero once again led the crowd through a time in place through food and drink. Serving Americana style, big enamelware pots sat in the middle of the round tables holding split pea soup. One might ask, what does this particular soup have to do with Norman Rockwell?
Dighero recently had an intimate dinner with the focus of one of Rockwell’s most infamous illustrations. Ruby Bridges was one of six black children in New Orleans designated to attend an all-white schools. Bridges was the only one assigned to William Frantz. Norman Rockwell commemorated the day in the painting “The Problem We All Live With.”
Dighero had dinner with Bridges, now Bridges Hall, and he said during the dinner they talked about food. She recalled her childhood was spent snapping green beans and shucking peas, hence the soup.
“And to go with the soup, what goes best with peas,” Dighero asked, “Carrots of course, so we created a special carrot cocktail.”
It’s infused with vodka, freshly squeezed carrot juice, pineapple juice, clover honey and a pickled baby carrot for a garnish. While most in the crowd were game to taste, they were pleasantly surprised.
“My sous chef said only fresh organic carrots would do so she made me go to Ozark Natural Foods for carrots, some 100 pounds of them,” he said.
As with any WOW event, Dighero was joined on a raised stage by Director of Exhibition and Education Niki Ciccotelli Stewart.
“When anyone walks through the ‘American Experience’ there are all these sensory experiences happening. There are 323 covers for the Saturday Evening Post and grandfathers, grandparents are bringing their grandbabies and they are literally moving through time together,” she said.
Ciccotelli Stewart said the other thing in life that’s a sensory experience beside art is food.
“We use Edible Culture a lot,” Dighero said, “It goes back to our ancestry.”
Ciccotelli Stewart walked through several Rockwell works where food and art collide. “Rosie the Riveter” is holding a sandwich. There’s no definitive evidence as to what’s in the sandwich but when Ciccotelli Stewart suggested spam it evoked a noisy and argumentative response from the crowd.
“See, we all just had a physical reaction to food in art and it was about a sandwich,” giggled Ciccotelli Stewart.
From “Freedom from Want” she points out that the viewer is part of the meal. The family sitting at the Thanksgiving Day table is looking and facing us.
“How can we talk about food and Rockwell and not show this painting?” she asked.
A new element of this WOW event was making the audience a bigger part of the art conversation. Ciccotelli Stewart and Dighero asked those attending to write on two different cards and throw them into an enamelware pot at the front of the room. They housed answers to questions, what does Rockwell mean to you and what are your favorite food memories?
At the end of the art lecture, those answers were shared with the crowd. They ranged from bacon frying in a grandmother’s house to mom’s Mac-and-cheese to beignets from the French Quarter in New Orleans.
The next WOW event takes place from 6 to 7 p.m. May 15, with specific works from the American Encounters exhibition such as Jan Steen’s “Festive Family Meal” and Eastman Johnson’s “Negro Life at the South.”